Carving out community: Woodworking enthusiast teaches traditional technique

Joshua Farnsworth’s Earlysville woodworking school, Wood and Shop, is the result of a reignited childhood passion. Photo: Sanjay Suchak Joshua Farnsworth’s Earlysville woodworking school, Wood and Shop, is the result of a reignited childhood passion. Photo: Sanjay Suchak

Stepping into Joshua Farnsworth’s Wood and Shop schoolhouse is like wrenching open a time capsule. Traditional woodworking instruments, including saws and handheld shaving tools, dangle from pegs and hug the surrounding white walls. Walking among the homemade workbenches and rustling up a rush of sawdust, you slip back a few centuries.

Farnsworth began to home in on his handyman identity as a kid. The youngest of 10 raised on a farm in rural Utah, he learned to program resourcefulness into his daily routine (an inclination that persists). In fact, he repurposed the very room he teaches craft courses in, remodeling an old RV garage into a vast makerspace boasting soaring ceilings and brimming with natural light. This Earlysville lodge, an addendum to the lot he lives on with his wife and four children, backs up to the front porch, where he often shares conversation with students over supper. The Wood and Shop experience is homegrown in more ways than one.

Farnsworth’s fascination with traditional woodworking sprang from youthful admiration: He calls his brother-in-law, also an artisan, his “childhood hero.” Farnsworth, too, was propelled by a calling to create, later tinkering with woodworking in secondary school vocational classes (“That’s what I loved about growing up in the ’80s and ’90s,” he says). Even then, though, he couldn’t imagine this passion blossoming into a profession.

Photo: Courtesy Joshua Farnsworth

Fast forward past college and into the middle years of a real estate career. “The economy crashed out West, and I still had a company that I’d started with some people [in Virginia],” he says. After returning East, the other business buckled under similar pressures, nudging him back toward carpentry. “I think I was glad because it pushed me back into what I love doing,” he says.

But Farnsworth didn’t set out to make money from woodworking exactly. His inherent enthusiasm and thirst for intellectual exploration naturally propelled him to the peak of the niche scene. He accrued introductory materials, assembled a site, launched a YouTube channel, and recorded tours of renowned furniture makers’ and tool collectors’ workshops. The money followed.

Gaining ground

Farnsworth has amassed an international following, drawing in emails from fans dotting the globe. One eager student even jetted cross-country from Colorado to take a class with him in person. Farnsworth eventually found himself in the same space as his second childhood hero, Roy Underhill of PBS’ “The Woodwright’s Shop.”

Despite his indisputable celebrity, Farnsworth oozes humility. He credits his entrepreneurial spirit and situation in the present media moment as the primary factors driving his success. “When I first started getting really interested in hand tools, there weren’t a lot of resources available, especially online,” he says. “I jumped in at the right time.”

He also uses his platform to shine a light on other talented artisans who lack marketing and/or digital media skills. He offers other experts teaching slots at his school, features them on his site, and is expanding a digital marketplace to connect them with potential customers. “There are a lot of unsung heroes out there,” he says.

Farnsworth reflects on how his professional journey—though at times turbulent—resulted in this gorgeously unexpected outcome. “I guess everybody over time is kind of making a tapestry,” he says. “There [are] some dark threads—hard times in your life or struggles—but then at the end, I hope you look back and say, ‘The tapestry wouldn’t have been this beautiful without those times.’” He underscores the joy of teaching—of pushing people past fears of failure and granting them temporary refuge from the dizziness of the digitized world.

To Farnsworth, artistic integrity means simplicity, and beauty equals imperfection. He mainly focuses on Shaker furniture, highlighting how neutral designs transcend time and constantly oscillating trends. It is this trade he works to sustain, an act of cultural and environmental influence. Although only one man, he recognizes his ability to have an enduring influence—to usher in continued artistry, in-craft connectivity, and furniture functionality for years to come.

Posted In:     Made In C-VILLE,Magazines

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